Sweden’s capital is an elegant, sophisticated and stunning city that can be enjoyed on a budget. Stockholm is one of the most stylish cities in Europe and is made up of individually distinct neighbourhoods, each with their own style and personality.
Spread across 14 islands, the city boasts cutting-edge museums, both independent and luxurious shopping, gorgeous natural beauty and stunning architecture. But this doesn’t have to come at a price, as Bruno from Geeky Explorer explains:
"Apart from a modern and edgy city, Stockholm is also one of the most expensive capitals of the world, but that doesn't mean you can't have a great time there for dirt cheap. In fact, you can have a great Nordic experience for free!"
Like with any city, there is much that you can enjoy without having to spend a penny. So to help you before your Baltic cruise holiday, we will guide you through the best free things to do in Stockholm.
Free walking tour
Stepping into a new city can be a intimidating. There is always so much to see that you get too caught up in running from place-to-place that you miss out on the best sights. That’s why one of the best ways to discover a city is by taking a walking tour.
Stockholm’s streets are lined with buildings dedicated to its history and heritage, and a few hours with Free Tour Stockholm will help you to take in as much as possible.
Annelie, who established the business after interailing around Europe with husband Freddie, spoke to us about the tours:
"People who take our tours can expect to get 1.5 hour walking tours of the most interesting sights in Stockholm - absolutely free! We will take you to the place where the Nobel prizes are awarded, where the term ‘Stockholm syndrome’ was coined during a bank robbery, the royal palace, the smallest statue in Stockholm and the best view in Scandinavia. Just to mention a few of our stops! All the while telling you interesting stories and trying to make you laugh."
"It's easy, fun, and did I mention free? And people love it. We're the highest ranked tour of all tours in Stockholm on TripAdvisor, 1 out of 85 tours, with over 1000 5-star reviews."
"We have tours every day, of City, Old Town and Söder, in both Spanish and English."
The three tours each have their own individual taste and style. The City Tour leads you around the main city area, the Söder Tour which takes you through the bohemian Södermalm, or the Old Town tour where you can discover the original island of Stockholm, narrow alleyways and cobbled streets.
The story of Stockholm and Sweden is colourful, and the best way to learn about it is in the country’s museums. Fortunately the capital has a large number of museums which are completely free to visitors, covering everything from the history of its army, to sport and Sweden’s natural history.
Sweden’s leading museum of art and design, the Nationalmuseum’s collection comprises of old paintings, drawings, sculptures and even graphic art and design. Though currently under renovation, (the museum is due to reopen in 2018), it is an unmissable free attraction in Stockholm for any art and history lover.
The National Sports Museum, (Riksidrottsmuseet) in Stockholm showcases the legacy of sport in Sweden, with examples and exhibits from ancient times to the modern day. Including records, prints, photographs, film, literature and objects, the museum’s collection stands at close to 5,000 items and 2,000 publications that document the highs and lows of Swedish sport.
Admission is free, so there is no excuse for you not to enjoy the exhibits or try the different sporting activities and challenges around the museum.
See the world’s longest art museum
It is said that the Stockholm subway is the world’s longest art exhibit, with 110 miles across 90 stations decorated. Mosaics, large paintings, installations, sculptures and engravings from more than 150 artists have livened up the subway system.
"The underground world in Stockholm is just as worthy to visit as the above ground," said Bruno.
"The city's metro (T-Bana) stations are true architecture beauties and house a unique collection of artworks and exhibitions - there are even free art walks to get to know it all."
Peace, environment and women’s rights are all covered across the exhibits and if you’re thinking of checking them out, the Blue Line is a particularly good example of the beautiful work.
Stockholm Culture Festival
Thousands take to the streets on six consecutive days to celebrate culture, music, art and food at the Stockholm Culture Festival.
The celebration follows a theme each year and commences on the 15th August, running on until Sunday 20th, which marks the end of the Swedish summer holidays. Across four stages you get to hear a wide collection of genres from gospel to rock, world and pop, as well as stand-up comedy, films and talks.
If you have younger people with you in Stockholm you can take them to the Family Festival, last year held on Norrbro for babies to 13 year olds, or the “We are Sthlm” youth festival for teens aged 13-19. “We are Sthlm” is the largest youth festival of its kind in Europe, with live acts, obstacle courses, skateboard parks, workshops and much more.
Terese Bonnevier, communications manager for the festival, told us what to expect if you visit the city on a Baltic cruise this year:
“Stockholm Culture Festival is the largest annual event of its kind in the Swedish capital and aims to make culture more accessible for everyone. This year the festival has theme India which will spice up the programme in many ways; a big Bollywood show, Indian traditional dances, movies, talks, modern music and a lot more.
”The programme is broad and includes everything from world music, jazz, opera, classical, pop, rock, electro, children / family, author, street art, theater, art, dance, photography and international artists. The programme also includes walks, movies and talk about literature, politics and subjects connected with the theme.”
The event has free admission, so anyone can fully immerse themselves in Sweden’s and Stockholm’s history and culture. The festival has been running since 2006 and last year attracted more than 750,000 thousand visitors – many of which where tourists.
"The festival usually features the world's longest book table, which is always on Sunday," said Terese. ”Everything at the Stockholm Culture Festival is free with the exception of ’walks’ - guided city walks with a variety of themes.”
“A common reaction from visitors is that they knew Stockholm was beautiful, but never expected it to be so lively and bustling as it is during the festival,” says Claes Karlsson, Artistic Director for the festival.
”This is a party for everyone, no matter where you live,” says Claes.
Smaka på Stockholm
Smaka på Stockholm is the ultimate insight into the food of Sweden’s capital, and the country as a whole. The festival is an exhibition of the finest gastronomy across this part of Scandinavia in a friendly, summer-party like atmosphere.
Johan Turesson, co-founder of Smaka på Stockholm said:
"Smaka på Stockholm is one of the world’s largest and most qualitative food festivals. The first week of June every year we take over Kungsträdgården (the Kings Garden), at the absolute heart of Stockholm, for a week filled with great food, drinks and activities. You can try fantastic food cooked by amazing chefs from fresh organic produce, test exciting craft beer, wines and champagne in a beautiful setting."
Smaka på Stockholm (A Taste of Stockholm) is held between the 1-6 of June every year in the centre of the city and is one of the largest festivals of its kind in the world.
Sweden, and Stockholm in particular, is very diverse and its gastronomy reflects that. Influences from around the world are celebrated at this festival, with restaurants, tasting sessions, food trucks and more all on show.
Johan said: "We annually attract 350,000 visitors, 35 restaurateurs, 75 renowned Swedish chefs as well as 100 bakers and small producers. Among this year’s participants you will find some of Stockholm and Sweden's best restaurants and food trucks. You´re going to meet Michelin Star Chefs, Bocuse dÓr Medallists and why not learn to cook something fab with a master chef.”
Stockholm Street Festival
The Stockholm Street Festival began in 2010 in a bid to raise awareness for the care of public spaces amongst the citizens and politicians of the city. Held between the 30th of June and 2nd July, it celebrates some of the most talented street performers that cover the traditional buskers to the new art of street performances. Elsewhere you can see street painters, 3D painters, musicians and dancers.
Market stalls are dotted around the festival offering a range of multi ethnic foods and gives the whole event a real international atmosphere to it. Acts from Canada, France and Japan all join together for the same common cause in a crazy, carnival setting.
Visit a UNESCO World Heritage Site
Stockholm is fortunate enough to have three World Heritage Sites within close proximity. These are areas that are considered to be invaluable to all of humanity and are both widely celebrated and passionately protected.
UNESCO World Heritage Sites are stunning and evocative in many ways, but Skogskyrkogården – The Woodland Cemetery – is among the finest. Fragile, emotive and ghostly in many respects, it is particularly beautiful at dawn and dusk when the silhouettes of the trees stand out from the pastel sky.
This masterpiece was a collaborative project from some of Sweden’s finest artists and architects who brilliantly coupled nature and architecture back in the early 1900s, it is even considered to be one of the most important creations of modern architecture. Open 24 hours throughout the year, there are few better places in Stockholm for a long walk and contemplation.
Known as Sweden’s first town, Birka can be found in the middle of Lake Mälaren, where there are still visible traces of the people who lived and died here.
Dating back to mid-700 AD, Birka is believed to be the creation of the Swedish king, who sought to take advantage from the city’s position to take control of the northern Scandinavian trade. It was a thriving area and the heart of much of Sweden’s economic and political power and is heavily linked to the strong cultural ties to the Vikings in the area.
Sweden’s best preserved royal palace and one of Stockholm’s most popular tourist attractions, Drottningholm Palace was constructed in the seventeenth century and remains the permanent residence of the royal family.
The palace includes magnificent salons from the seventeenth, eighteenth and nineteenth century, as well as an idyllic park, Chinese pavilion and the best preserved eighteenth century theatre in Europe. Once more, it remains the only theatre that still uses the original stage machinery.
Listen to the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra
Founded in 1902, the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra has been calling the Stockholm Concert Hall home since 1962. The orchestra holds over 100 concerts throughout the year and during the summer months you can listen to them for free. In a long standing tradition, the Royal Orchestra plays a free concert at Gärdet at the Maritime Museum.
Go and explore
Visiting a new city can be overwhelming. There is so much to see, do, try and taste that you may not know where to start. But that is exactly why you should allow yourself a couple of hours to just go out and explore.
Without a plan or goal you don’t know what gem you might discover along the way, like Gamla Stan, as Bruno explains:
“A walk around the old town of Stockholm - Gamla Stan - will reveal all of its medieval charisma. The small alleys, the cobbled streets and the impeccably preserved architecture are a delight. Don’t miss the popular Stortoget square and its especially colourful buildings. Under the right lighting, this is a postcard-perfect spot.”
This is echoed by Marek, the brains behind Indie Traveller: "In Stockholm you simply can't go wrong strolling around the Gamla Stan area, which is the historical medieval town centre full of lovely little cobbled streets. Go to the Mårten Trotzigs Gränd, which is (so the legend goes) the narrowest alleyway in Scandinavia, and it's so narrow it just barely fits the street lights hanging above it."
Stockholm is an incredibly diverse and vibrant city, with each neighbourhood and district offering something different: “The vibe in Södermalm district is completely different,” said Bruno. “Trendy, modern and creative, this has been voted as the “coolest neighbourhood in Europe..
“People from all sort of urban tribes converge in these streets filled with bars, restaurants and shops. It's in this area that you can enjoy the most magnificent views of Stockholm: just follow the Monteliusvägen walking path.”
Like with any city, Stockholm has something for everyone. There is something to catch the eye or spark your imagination in a city that is almost intimidating with its beauty and stature. You should never feel constrained or limited by the belief that Sweden’s capital is too expensive to enjoy. Instead, follow our advice and discover the best free things to do in Stockholm.
Image Credit: Peter Backman